Many B.E. 100s were hurt by last year’s ailing economy. Their remedy: Tighten operations and find creative ways to boost revenues. There’s an old adage: When American industry catches a cold, black business gets pneumonia. During 2001 America’s largest black-owned companies were attacked by a virulent strain of economic flu. Like their majority-owned counterparts, the companies that comprise the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 were plagued by the multiple ills of recession, war, and terrorism. But many were knocked off their feet by another development: major corporations-the customers for more than 60% of these firms-continued aggressive retrenchment programs, consolidating vendors, and slashing business spending.
As the BE 100S celebrates its 30th anniversary, last year’s affliction had a feeling of déjà vu. In 1991 the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 endured similar conditions — an international conflict in the form of the Persian Gulf War, a corporate sector that downsized to achieve profitability, and a strong economy that quickly went limp. Then, and now, the BE 100S CEOs could not let the political and economic climate infect their enterprises. They performed triage, shifting company priorities so that their businesses could move forward in the decade ahead.
Truth be told, most of our firms didn’t wait for a diagnostic review of the economy. After all, the National Bureau of Economic Research, a panel of senior economists, finally declared in November 2001 that the recession had begun the previous March, giving new meaning to the term “old news.”
For some, it was a bitter pill to swallow as they shuttered divisions and reduced payrolls and overhead. Others, however, found that the shift provided them with the right tonic for growth: eager strategic partners and companies that could be bought at bargain prices.
despite the tough economy, total revenues were $11.4 billion, up 4.31% from the watershed $10.9 billion in 2000. However, more than 44% of the firms on the list had flat or declining revenues.
As you would expect, the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 realized a significant drop in its workforce. In 2001, 63,627 employees were on the payroll of these firms, a 3.45% decrease from the 65,898 workers employed in 2000. Once again, Hawkins food Group, with 7,319 workers, emerged as this year’s employment leader.
As much as they could, the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 CEOs kept their companies from becoming fully contaminated by the spreading economic virus. But just as they managed to contain one problem, another surfaced: Sept. 11, which sabotaged their efforts. But these executives remained diehards who were unwilling to let external bugs or internal injuries deter them. As the events of last year demonstrated, companies on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list will salve their wounds and rethink business models as they operate in an increasingly unpredictable business environment.
There are a number of major events that marked this year’s list. One of the more significant developments this year was the arrival of Houston-based CAMAC as the nation’s largest black-owned business. No. 1 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $979.5 million in sales, the oil exploration and engineering giant